It seems improbable to some that Hyundai, the company that once sold a car so inexpensive you could charge it on a credit card, would unleash a car that costs $58,000 and competes with the finest luxury cars in the world.
Those who sniff with disdain may do well to remember that some esteemed luxury automakers had humble origins. Consider, for example, Jaguar, which started as a manufacturer of motorcycle sidecars.
Given that every automaker has access to the same auto- industry suppliers, and thus the same technology, it comes down to this: Which brand do you like, and how much are you willing to pay?
Hyundai is gambling you'll want to pay less. Given its track record, that seems like a good bet.
After all, the 2011 Equus has the luxury features you'd expect in this class: a 608-watt, 17-speaker Lexicon audio system, electronically controlled air suspension, electronic stability control, automatic cruise control, rear-view camera, leather seating surfaces, Alcantara suede headliner, lane departure warning system, driver seat massage, heated and cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel.
Pop for the Equus Ultimate and you'll get even more hedonistic pleasure from its forward-view camera, reclining climate-controlled rear seats with massage, rear-seat refrigerator, rear illuminated vanity mirrors and a rear-seat entertainment system.
What the Equus doesn't have is a luxury name on the hood. And while the quality of the materials is impressive, although in places, it's still a step down from the best in class. That seems less of an issue once you take the wheel.
A 4.6-liter V8 and six-speed automatic transmission delivers 385 horsepower to the rear wheels with a quiet, creamy smoothness. This velvet fog is enhanced by the ride, which is generally soft, although the air suspension helps keep things mostly in check. The ride quality isn't quite as serene as its competition, but only car connoisseurs will notice.
This is not a driver's car; it is a car to be driven in. For those who prefer comfort, this is the ride. Some pundits have taken Hyundai to task for this. My guess is that because the steering and suspension communicate some information back to the driver, they're expecting this rig to handle with the precision of a German sports sedan. But that's not its mission, despite the conservative styling that looks as if it was created in the fatherland.
Interestingly, both the Equus and the smaller Genesis, with which the Equus shares a platform, have a handsome, conservative look that's very different from the curvaceous flowing style that's the hallmark of its newer products such as the Sonata and Elantra.
That the Equus delivers 95 percent of the experience of its competition is without question. But is that extra 5 percent the Equus lacks worth the extra $13,000 to $33,000 in cost its competitors charge?
For those who value the driving experience of a premium sedan with exemplary manners and the aura of a premium brand, the answer is yes.
For those who find labels to be an excuse to charge more, the answer is no.